On the Body of Christ

The phrase “Body of Christ” is one that is so common that a lot of people imagine the New Testament is riddled with it from beginning to end. But in fact, only one writer uses it: Paul. To be sure, Jesus comes very close to using it (“This is my body” in reference to the Eucharist) and Paul is basically running with an idea given to him by Jesus. But the actual coinage of the term “Body of Christ” in reference to the Church is 100% Paul’s.

And thereby hangs a tale.

Paul likens the Church to the body of Jesus in a number of places, but his longest discussion is very plainly in 1 Corinthians 10-12. There, his mind passes seamlessly from discussion of the Eucharistic body of Christ to the ecclesial body of Christ. We are one body with many members (i.e, body parts) because we are first partakers of the Body of Christ which is the Eucharist. Paul sees no conflict between the two ideas but rather the one flows naturally from the other.

Note that: for Paul, the Church is one body because the Eucharist is one body: the body of Jesus. It is not the other way around. The potency and power of the Church’s oneness comes from Christ, not from the People Power of a lot of believers coming together to pretend real hard that some bread and wine are, by sheer dint of their will, transformed into the body and blood of Christ. The Eucharist is what it is for Paul because Jesus (by the same creative word that made the entire universe) makes this strange miracle to be. The entire Church will simply take that so deeply for granted that for the first nearly thousand years, it simply will not occur to anybody to doubt it. And the testimony to that conviction will litter the writings of Christians. You may not buy that. But they did.

The reason I mention that is because the fusion of the ideas of the Body of Christ Eucharistic and the Body of Christ Ecclesial is simply taken for granted by the New Testament writers. But it is not take for granted today. Many of those most passionate about the Eucharistic Body of Christ speak as though the Body of Christ Ecclesial is practically the opposite of faith in the Real Presence. So we often see a push by the Greatest Catholics of All Time to drive out members of the Body of Christ Ecclesial and, even more, to drive away those seeking to enter a Church that Jesus founded to be the primary sacrament of his mercy. Weirdly, many Catholics seek the Church as a fortress to defended and hate those who leave it seeking the poor, the blind, and the lame. All you have to do is watch the bitter hatred the Greatest Catholics of All Time have for Pope Francis to see this bizarre malignancy at work. They hate his living guts because he leaves the fortress behind and goes to serve the least of these.

And yet, of course, it is what Jesus himself literally commanded his disciples to do: “Go out quickly to the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in the poor and maimed and blind and lame.” (Lk 14:21).

Indeed, long before Jesus revealed the mystery of his Real Presence in the Eucharist, he made exceedingly clear his presence in the hungry, thirsty, naked, sick, and imprisoned:

Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.’” (Mt 25:34–40)

That is why John Chrysostom, easily grasping what so many US conservative Christians now believe to be “woke propaganda” understood that “If you do not see Christ in the beggar at the Church door, you shall not find him in the Chalice.”

The attempt to pit Eucharistic piety against the Church’s social doctrine is as blasphemous as the Black Mass. See the totality of the Body of Christ and you will be given more. Blind yourself to part of it and even what you have you will lose.


4 Responses

  1. Wonderfully stated, a relevant to today’s Gospel – the Son of Man is lord of the sabbath. Too many of the GCOAT forget this and so much more of what the Church truly is. Keep up your great work!

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